After years of longing to visit Japan, various obstacles stood in my way. Financial limitations and the responsibilities of taking care of a family delayed my plans. However, in my early thirties, the stars aligned as I had saved enough money and secured the most important piece: childcare. Finally, I was able to take my wife and I to 日本. This post covers the highlights, lessons learned, our favorite experiences and places, along with insights into how I planned our two week itinerary.
Check out some of the Japan Trip Pictures.
First I needed to buy some plane tickets, and more importantly, select dates. Since our dates were only bounded by summer (because kids), I was able to restrict my flights search within the months of June and July, and find the most affordable flights to Japan with a two week long gap between arriving and departing.
Next I made a short list of things we definitely wanted to do:
After I had my dates and plane tickets bought, I needed to pick some dates and times for things that required reservations in advance, such as: Hotels, Ryokan, Tea Ceremony, and TokyoLab Planets.
I started with a picking a night to stay at a Ryokan (in Hakone) as the ones I had picked out were already filling up. The Ryokan wasn't available for most nights on our two week span, but I was able to book a night in the second half of our trip.
Now that I had the most important accommodation booked, I was able to plan our destinations around it, pick how how long we stay in each destination, and book accommodations in each destination. Our destination itinerary looked something like this.
After booking accommodations, now I needed to book a few other activities that require advance reservations. I started off by researching Tea Ceremonies in Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo. I found a really nice, authentic, and highly rated one in Kyoto and added that to our list: Maikoya Tea Ceremony.
For our first morning after arriving in Tokyo, I took us to teamLab Planets before we took the Shinkansen to Kyoto.
Everything else on our definite todo list was up to us to make happen on our trip. I did not want to plan everyday in advance as we both enjoy flexibility and do what we want to do when we feel like doing it. You never know when you might want to sleep in a little extra, or stay longer in a particular part of town, so it's best to have freedom and not plan out every single day.
We could get anywhere we wanted by train, bus, and subway with a little bit of walking added in. Add in the fact that a digital Suica card in our Apple Wallet on our iPhone, getting around was effortless and fun. The U.S. desperately needs its own Shinkansen.
Konbinis (7-Eleven, FamilyMart, Lawson)
So easy to stop in and grab a delicious bite to eat.
Cleanliness & Friendliness
Everyone we interacted with (either in english or our broken Nihongo) was very pleasant and everywhere we visited was extraordinarily clean.
Coming from America, I loathe tipping. I was elated at not having to tip for service. I wish America would follow suit and pay employees a livable wage to begin with.
Putting aside the toxic aspects of Japan's work culture, I really enjoyed how everyone took their job seriously and professionally. Even the job to walk around with a sign reminding visitors of the museum to talk quietly, was performed in earnest.
It was rare to find a public restroom with hand towels to dry your hands. It is customary to bring your own Tenugui with you.
Slow Automatic Doors
I have never paid attention to automatic doors much in America, but in Japan, I almost walked into a few that don't open at a pace I am accustom to.
No Eating In Public
While not the law as far as I know, people in Japan do not eat or drink in public or even walking on the streets. It is customary to take your food to eat in private either at home, a park, or the place you purchased your food from. You will see people eat right outside street food vendors as that is expected, but you want see people casually eating their street food as the walk down the street. We personally weren't a fan because my wife basically needs to eat every hour or so and has a bag of snacks ready to eat.
Osaka Wasn't For Us
We didn't not enjoy our stay in Osaka, but we found Osaka not as beautiful, humble, and clean as Kyoto, lacked a cultural feeling and friendly atmosphere that was more prevalent in Tokyo. We definitely didn't like sharing the sidewalks with bicycles in Osaka where as in Tokyo they had lanes in the roads. Interestingly, other's anecdotes on the internet I have read have had the opposite experience as us and they enjoyed Osaka much more than Tokyo.
A mesmerizing Shinto shrine famous for its thousands of vibrant torii gates, creating an enchanting pathway through the sacred Mount Inari, inviting that took us on an enchanted scenic journey, located in Kyoto.
Also known as the Golden Pavilion, is a breathtaking Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan, adorned in shimmering gold leaf and surrounded by picturesque gardens, creating a serene and awe-inspiring atmosphere.
A majestic fortress that stands as a testament to Japan's rich feudal history, offering visitors a glimpse into the country's architectural and cultural heritage, located in the center of Odawara.
A captivating sanctuary where friendly deer roam freely amidst ancient temples and lush greenery, creating a fun and magical atmosphere where you can also watch tourists get bit by overly-friendly deer.
A renowned store in Japan that is a treasure trove for creative and unique products, offering an extensive range of items that cater to various interests and hobbies. We visited Hands in each city, but the one in Shibuya was the best.
12-18 Udagawacho, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0042, Japan
Loft is known in Japan for its stylish and eclectic selection, offering unique and trendy lifestyle products. Again, the Loft in Shibuya was amazing compared to others we visited.
21-1 Udagawacho, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0042, Japan
A renowned stationery store. With a history spanning over a century, Itoya has become an iconic destination for stationery enthusiasts and creative professionals alike and we were amazed on each floor this place had to offer (starting with the hand squeezed lemonade on the first).
2-7-15, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061 Japan
A 12 floor store of the popular Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo. Since we were tourists, we definitely took advantage of Tax-free shopping and got some quality clothes for much better prices than you can stateside.
Japan, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo City, Ginza, 6 Chome−9−5
The Muji store is a haven of minimalist design and practicalityw ith its clean aesthetic and emphasis on simplicity. All the products are made with high quality materials with a focus on functionality with the majority of the products Made in Japan.
3 Chome-3-5 Ginza, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0061, Japan
Sekaido is an artist's paradise and a go-to destination for art supplies. This multi-level store offers an extensive selection of paints, brushes, canvases, sketchbooks, and other materials, catering to the needs of professional artists and hobbyists alike.
Japan, 〒160-0022 Tokyo, Shinjuku City, Shinjuku, 3 Chome−1−1
Yodobashi is a massive electronics retailer that leaves no tech enthusiast disappointed. Spread across multiple floors, the store offers an impressive variety of electronics, ranging from the latest gadgets and appliances to cameras, computers, gaming consoles, and audio equipment.
1 Chome-11-1 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0023, Japan
Mocha Cat Cafe
This Cat Cafe is a charming haven where we enjoyed a cup of coffee while surrounded by adorable and playful cats of all shapes and sizes. We ended up visiting each Mocha Cat Cafe in each city, but this one in Kyoto was the best as it was brightly lit with huge glass windows looking onto the city from the second floor.
Japan, 〒604-8031 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, 三条下ル大黒町５８番地mina４F
Starbucks Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya (Kyoto)
Izakaya Masaka (Shibuya)
〒150-0042 東京都渋谷区宇田川町１５−1 渋谷PARCO B1
Okonomiyaki Katsu (Kyoto)
Yakitori Daikishi (Kyoto)
〒605-0011 京都府京都市東山区大橋町 東入四丁目七軒町18−２
7-Eleven Sour Cream Onion Chips (Thick Cut)
The best, most creamy sour cream and onion chips ever. I seriously ate an individual sized bag a day because they were so good.
Best fried pork cutlet between two super soft pieces of crust-less bread you will ever have. Japan's sandos are amazing thanks to their bread.